Part 1: Commissioning a Maple Leaf Gift

Several people have asked me how I would work with them to commission a carving and I’m never sure that I’ve done a good job of helping them understand. I’ve explained this numerous times, but sometimes a few photos will say more than a thousand words. It just so happens that I was recently commissioned to carve a piece for a gift, and I took photos along the way. I’ll describe the process as it went along and do so in real-time, meaning that each day I’ll post a description of what happened that day, with photos to show how it went. You can follow along each day and get as close to replicating the experience as possible.

Exciting eh? Well, ok, maybe not. But it will give you a unique window into the world of how to commission a carving. It’s really not that difficult as you’ll see. Hang onto your hats, and check your pockets for change – tie your shoes on tight because we’re going for a ride!

Day 1: Peter (a guy at work) has been interested in my blog and Facebook pictures for a little while and the other day he approached me about carving something. He explained that it was a gift for a family member who lives in South Africa and his wife was going there in a couple of weeks. The first question he asked was, “Would you have time to carve something before she leaves?”

“Well,” I said, “It depends on the complexity of the project, but I’m interested. What did you have in mind?”

In his case, he had a relatively simple carving idea, and it was a fairly well-developed idea. He explained that he wanted something that could sit on a mantel or hang on a wall, “and about so big” he showed me with his hands. “And I’d like it to have a leaf carved into it.” It didn’t take long before he grabbed a pen and paper and drew up a sketch for me.

“Sure, I can do that in a couple of weeks, no problem,” I replied when he put down the pen. Then I asked him a few more questions about the project and we determined that he wanted a leaf on, or in, a background, with a darker wood for the leaf so that it stood out. He also wanted the phrase, “Coram Deo” (Latin for “In the presence of God”) carved into the base. Neither of us could remember exactly how to spell the phrase (was it Corem or Coram?), so he said he would look it up and make sure it was correct.

Right about then he explained that it couldn’t be too much money because he was paid on a TWU salary (at which point we looked at each other knowingly – you have to work there to know just how little TWU people get paid), and his wife would have to give the final OK because it was to be her gift to a friend.

“No problem. I completely understand.” I explained that I would draw up the project in more detail and give him a price for approval. I made sure to mention that there would be no commitment until he liked it and wanted to go ahead with it. I know how tough it is to ask someone to make you an artistic piece that you only have an idea in your head about. And I know I wouldn’t want to commit to such a project without knowing a price. I get that and I make sure my clients understand that I understand. I find it goes a long way to helping them to trust me.

Maple Leaf Idea

I went home and drew up the picture you see above and figured out a rough estimate of about 5 hours worth of work, which included the following:

  • time to draw the picture
  • time to calculate the wood options and requirements.
  • Time to calculate the costs of the wood and the potential finishes
  • Time to cut the wood out, glue it up, and carve the leaf
  • Time to carve the letters. I always calculate letter carving separately because it’s complex work, but I know about how long it takes to carve a letter.

Then, because Peter’s a good guy and I’m a bad businessman, I hacked a bunch off the price. I wrote it all up and sent it off to Peter for approval. Even after seeing it sketched out in real size, I know that people often have a hard time committing to a price because they still can’t hold the art in their own hands yet, so I waited and hoped.

To be continued. Be sure to check in tomorrow for part two.


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